Winning Writing

finalMolly McDaniel

Named for the founder of the Creative Writing Program, Greg Glazner, the Glazner contest was conceived as a way to engage creative writing high school students across the country with SFUAD’s Creative Writing Department. Ninety-three junior and high school students from 65 high school and 23 states entered the competition. Students were allowed to submit fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction to the contest.

First place winner Molly McDaniel grew up in a small town in northwest Iowa. She has loved writing her entire life, attending programs such as the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and Interlochen Arts Camp. In 2013, she won the Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Award and received a $30,000 scholarship to attend Interlochen Arts Academy, where she is currently a senior creative writing major. She loves to read, has traveled to five countries, and can be found quoting entire episodes of The Office with her sisters.

 

Candelabra

 

daughter, i have seen the dance.

and i have seen the phone calls,

the blood behind your eyes                and the green

 

of misplaced hate;                   daughter,

 

i have seen good men killed         in bad wars,

 

their eyes still open,                           and i have seen

the limp wrists like a child’s neck                      the elbows ripe       as cherries—

 

daughter, i know you trust me,

and i know you don’t sleep.

mothers                                                           know these things.

 

i know    when you dance

you try to watch your step                i know you have a wreath of candles

wound             between your tender hair,

 

the cornsilk strands of it, and i know     he holds the match.

daughter,  i know        you are on fire—

daughter,

 

you have always looked so fine                      in red.

i have boiled the eggs

and swept the dust from his words,

i have heard him                                              promise.  daughter

i know men die clinging to the hand of god.

 

i have wanted to show you

the pink teeth, the neatness of it,       animals tearing animals

 

apart.               i have seen the ribs shine like red wax

 

and i have seen the body burn,

the ribs like a candelabra,

 

and so much smoke. daughter,

the smell has stayed in my hair          for days.  daughter

 

i am telling you      why     i have gone gray.

 

daughter,

do not have a daughter. do not listen to men

 

with exacto knife eyes            and full thick tongues

 

and do not fall in love with his hands, the way they play the piano as you dance,

 

daughter, do not become an instrument.          do not let him pull out your teeth

to make room for the keys—

 

daughter, if god had loved us            he would have taken our limbs; if he had wanted you

 

he would not have given you necklaces of fingerprints

and flame.

daughter, you do not need your pride.           when he offers to cut it for you

 

lay a tablecloth            and the silver the way i showed you,

and when he tells you to say a blessing          light the house

on fire.

daughter,         good men died on a sunday,                and they were dancers.

 

i have seen their hair

more gold than wedding bands and

i have seen the fingers long

 

and  white

 

like the memory                      of         hate—

daughter          oh        daughter

 

i know

 

you would not
have cried.

 

En Croix

 

If I believed in God

there would never have been an accident.

 

When he says you are the light

my teeth turn into twenty-eight lit candles

 

and when we fuck, the wicks

mash between tongue and nipple.

 

In another life I was a dancer.

My spine took men’s breath away,

 

the caps of my knees were

plums purple with bruising. In one story,

 

the doctors tell me it is a rare blood disease

possibly inherited from my great-grandmother.

 

In another the fire eats my legs off.

At any rate, he asks me to pirouette,

 

and all I can manage is a tragedy. When I

tell him the light is an annihilation of darkness

 

he laughs, cupping my heel in his palm,

tracing the cracks like rivers of Braille.

 

They form more of a cross, really,

and the betrayal comes like a milk in my throat,

 

when I believed in God, everything

was an accident. The first night we made love

 

he heard me whispering the Lord’s Prayer

and he told me the truth;

 

if he were the one to rewrite the Bible,

he’d have Adam pulled like a thick taffy

 

from the center of Eve’s spine. Amen, I tell him,

and it is a promise more than anything; I tell him

 

light is the darkness falling in love

and the sun comes up as he touches me everywhere.

 

Cobra

(from a series entitled “The Collected Works of Cleopatra”)

“With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate

Of life at once untie. Poor venomous fool

Be angry and dispatch.”

            -Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, Act V, Scene II

 

Death came in a basket

of figs, purple skins taut

and shining. It is a quiet thing.

It sighs and slithers. I watched

others die this way, the easiest way,

close your eyes and fall asleep—

the blood does not gush out in fountains,

the body does not jerk and spasm.

When I reached for him, my elbow

knocked a fruit onto the floor,

and it cracked into a flurry of seeds.

Maybe that is what it means. Maybe

nothing is worth seeing until the end.

It was too late. I had seen and

I had already lost—both in love and battle.

If I could not rule my country,

I would at least rule myself. And so he bit my breast.

It is said that dying this way makes one

immortal in the afterlife, but what you will be

remembered for on Earth is another question.

 

secondplacetessaSecond-place winner Tessa Finley is a high school senior at Denver School of the Arts, where she majors in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in the Denver Post. She hopes to continue to pursue writing in college.

Rabbits

As a young girl I kept rabbits, not in cages. They went about the room, scratching up the floorboards and tearing at the walls.  The prospect of buying cages for them in order to become a Proper Rabbit Owner always made me uneasy, so out of love or guilt my parents tolerated them and the skittering noises at night.

I was twelve when the last one died. Bedrooms without skittering rabbits are so quiet, even when you’re young. (What I mean by this is that most girls know the sound that a rabbit makes. I never thought of them as loud animals until, at age thirteen and on the night that I had stared paralyzed and silently into the eyes of my molester, I lied awake in my bed noticing for the first time what a quiet room I lived in.)

 

Part I: learning to speak

Some things are harder to write about than others. I am five years old in the summertime. My grandmother, standing beside me in the kitchen, tells me I come from a long line of beautiful women as she hands me a box of her old things, mostly bracelets and pearls from my grandfather (who I never met – he killed himself just outside of Berlin). Years later, I will read Freud and believe that he knows why grandmother had waited until I was five. I’m young; I’m still being given things all the time, tucking them into drawers for now to collect dust and age. My grandmother seems to find some consolation in this; she wants me to live in a small house in a coastal town with rings on my fingers and a soldier in my heart.

Seven years old. My father is home after months spent journaling in Iraq; he has brought me back a soccer jersey and a hijab. I don’t think either of us understand the ways that these artifacts are distinct. They will become divisive halves among myself, lines in the sand of the beach I learned to run on, a language of multiplicities that from this point forward would not be allowed to touch. I do not know this yet. I proudly tell my father why I won’t put the rabbits in cages.

Twelve, I am followed home. I say, “I am followed home”, instead of “he followed me home” because I still have not found a name for him, he does not want me to learn how to say it.

Thirteen, he tells me I am too softspoken. I never asked him. He thinks that quietness and silence are the same. In later years, I will wake up some nights without reason – no creaking floorboards. No midnight rain. He will not know why. Simon Van Booy wrote in a book that found me in springtime, “solitude and depression are like swimming and drowning. In school many years ago, I learned that flowers sometimes unfold inside themselves.”

Before I learned to speak I learned not to.

 

Part II: my confusing relationship with feminist rage

At fourteen I begin to tell myself that my father had wanted a son and not a daughter because I don’t know who else to blame. Gloria Anzaldua told me during my first high school English class:

 

“There are many defense strategies that the self uses to escape the agony of inadequacy and I have used all of them. I have split from and disowned those parts of myself that others rejected. I have used rage to drive others away and to insulate myself against exposure. I have reciprocated with contempt for those who have roused shame in me. I have internalized rage and contempt, one part of the self (the accusatory, persecutory, judgmental) using defense strategies against another part of the self […] most of this goes on unconsciously; we only know that we are hurting, we suspect that there is something “wrong” with us, something fundamentally wrong.”

 

Cages come in many forms. I know. I’ve built some within myself. My father once told me not to carry a knife. Tess, he said, you may be an athlete, but you will lose every fight you consent to.

The thing is he was right. There’s not a woman alive who’s never stood defeated inside the quiet room of consent upon whose walls are written more than yes’s and no’s.

I’m fifteen. In class my teachers are always telling me to “speak up.”

 

Part III: the quiet room

This is where I live, this empty room full of scratched-up floors and walls but no rabbits for proof. This thin space between closed jaws.

Seventeen. I visit my sister where she now lives in Eugene in student housing. While wandering by myself around the building, I see something in the basement at the bottom of the stairs. It is a cage. There’s a white rabbit inside with blind pink eyes. Frantically, I find my sister and ask her who has been taking care of it, keeping it locked up like that. She doesn’t know who it belongs to and says she’s hardly even seen it around. We drive to the pet store to buy it the right food and some vegetables. You cannot argue, I tell her as I jam rabbit food between the bars of the cage, with an animal’s eyes.

It’s the look, I think, in a rabbit’s eyes, that says, “Don’t put that fence there. Don’t close that door. Don’t say that word.” But for those of us who’ve grown too affectionate for or too tolerant towards these bolts and wires that cut everywhere inside, it’s impossible to notice anything that refuses being locked away.

 

finalDaliaThird-place winner Dalia Ahmed is a junior at Miami Arts Charter School attending the Creative Writing Program. She has won keys and medals in Scholastic’s Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and was chosen as a semifinalist for the National Student Poets Program as well as a Foyle Young Poets commendee. Her most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dog Eat Crow, Postscript Literary Journal, the Best Young Writers 2013 publication, the Of Love and Dedication anthology and elsewhere. Dalia also received first place in poetry in the Sierra Nevada College High School Writing Contest. Dalia lives in Miami, FL with a large Afro-Arab family, collections of colorful headscarves, and many bowls of hummus and pita bread.

Submerged

I.

This body is an ocean with violent currents.

I am a split sea fighting to break the surface. My breath once traveled steady–my heart is now skipping rocks across the Atlantic. Trained in the art of blood letting, my veins are laced with the cracks of a pink sun and red waters.

I stand tangled in the seaweed stretchmarks. My hair is clinging to the bruises across my neck and the pale sand of my skin. Off shore, I see three women in a boat rocking gently in what is the calm before my storm.

II.

Their eyes are roaming again.

Arab women, the lively ones at least, are seasoned chefs in the practice of courtesy. They are known for their biting wit and curt tongue. Their words are chaste and paralyzing, a grand variance to the melodious slip of the tongue that is Arabi. They roam their teeth on the cutting edge of an insult. A message to all who dare approach: take caution and be wary. They will eat you with a bowl of shame and pita bread. I am well versed in their culinary precision: I have attended every tasting, witnessed every spoon fed compliment and suffered in the wake of a first degree burn.

My aunts are these women.

They evaluate from the distance and this is what they see. They take me in–wide bust and staggering hips, a waist serving more as a column on a daunting and nervous foundation.

I am an ocean, large and imprecise. They say there are depths to me that no man, or woman or relative will ever dare to approach.

III.

The ocean is no longer in my name.

There is a warship occupying in the distance. My shores have been infiltrated and singed, this spirit uprooted. I am sitting on the clearing and I watch the waters become shallow. The ocean is now a fishbowl, and I sink like a pebble who mistook herself for a pearl.

Salt water is burning in my lungs. I no longer have that fresh water clarity. The war is salinizing my chest, spilling into my ribs.

A storm is approaching, big black clouds, coiling like my hair, against a muddy sky. Tears are trickling down my eyes and the boat is growing closer. The women’s voices rise above the crash of the waves that grow below my eyelids.

IV.

In Sudan, a woman’s body is her temple.

I have watched the women in my family groom for days on ends. Tricks to lighten skin and soften hair are exchanged in the glow of a setting African sun. Like their body fat percentage, their tolerance or respect for those who do not look like them are low.

I stand in front of a mirror with my hair curling in all directions. My arms are like seaweed tangled in murky waters as I sift through the strands with a comb, trying to make sense of the situation at hand. My aunt walks past and allows her eyes to glance at my waist before stopping.

“You know,” she says in her soft, raspy Arabic, “you aren’t all that fat, really. If you hadn’t inherited your breasts and bottom from your father’s side of the family, your body would be quite beautiful.”

I smiled thinly. She smiled one last time before walking off to attend to her own children and left me in the ocean, allowing it to suck me in and observe my surroundings from below the surface.

V.

The storm is raging.

The ocean swirls violently and the clouds are trembling. I sit quietly in the eye of the hurricane, watching the three women fall under. They are bobbing like random buoys and the boat is upturned, breaking under pressure. Lightning cracks above their heads and their screams are drowned out by the sound of thunder.

I see silent prayers pass from between their lips and contemplate whether silencing them is truly worth it. The storm is full of conflict. I do not see a solution in the clearing or beyond the horizon. I close my eyes and find only darkness and more tears to fuel the storm clouds.

But then there is light. I see rays break across the waters and fragment the waves. The sun peeks behind my back and I welcome it’s warmth.

The women are lying on the shore fighting to catch their breath. The waters are calming and the clouds are clearing. I sit in the palm of the beach and breathe in the sea air.

Their eyes are roaming. I blink once at their confused expressions and stand.
The ocean calls my name and with one step into the shallow waters, I answer.